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Widen your AMC’s business development process.

by Erin Fuller, FASAE, CAE, President | MCI USA Association Management & Consulting & Member | AMCI’s Board of Directors

The email came out of the blue, from a really strong association executive that I interviewed a few months back who wasn’t the right fit for the professional society leadership role I tried to fill. I brought him in anyway to meet with other members of our team. I was so impressed that I wanted him front of mind for the next appropriate executive director position we filled.

Now, the association he still served in a senior position decided to explore the AMC option, and he was put in charge of identifying the right fit. He immediately knew, based on our conversations, that our company was a strong cultural alignment, and thus, a sole-source opportunity for a significantly-sized client was born.

Many AMCs are fairly passive in terms of business development, waiting for requests for proposal (RFP) to enter our email boxes via the strong AMCI system, allied societies and other sources in local markets. We also rely on our current clients for referrals, knowing that busy people in one association tend to serve the same role in others. I admit that for many years that was our “strategy” around business development. We even boasted that our growth was primarily organic via existing clients and the referrals coming from the same.

However, nearly five years ago, we decided to be far more growth oriented, which meant being proactive in the pursuit of new business opportunities. Here are some successful ideas you may want to consider:

    • Track your business development. We went back and tracked the number of inquiries, proposals developed and wins, and continue to do so. Clearly, the win number is important. But, an increase f inquiries also shows the reach of your brand, which can pay dividends beyond the current year.

 

    • Track your referral sources.“How did you hear about us?” A simple question, and one that appears at the front of all business books. But, sometimes, we think we know this answer when we really don’t. For instance, you receive an RFP: What was the selection criteria? How wide was the search? We found an increasing number of associations use the search tool at AMCInstitute.org to locate firms that are credentialed, a certain size or in a key location, and focus an RFP only there. So knowing those criteria are important. We also found that a large proportion of inquiries are generated by our “trusted advisors”—attorneys, accountants and insurance providers, which is consistent with AMCI research. So make sure your AMCI profile is up-to-date (client listing, size, office location, website direct) and that your advisors are updated about how your company is growing.

 

    • Widen the BD bench. I hear this all the time from other AMC CEOs: “No one can sell us like I can.” In part, that is true. As entrepreneurs and folks that have been in the game for a while, we certainly have deep insight into the values, goals and history of our companies. But, by dominating the presentation or pitching solo, you miss a key opportunity to show your deep bench of professionals who will ultimately do far more direct client work than you may; and which, if you are selected, eases introducing new people into the client relationship. Remember that pitching can be foreign to nonprofit professionals. So, set some goals around training, giving them small roles in presentations, involving them in the proposal development process, etc. That way, they can feel confident sitting beside you in their most fabulous outfit when you make it to the finals.

 

    • Demystify the business model. I want to make sure everyone who works here understands how this works—from RFP to proposal development, from win to transition and integration. So, we try to regularly meet with our client leadership and client support teams to explain the importance of growth for economic and professional advancement.

 

  • Create and reward ambassadors. Our talents are consistent in identifying with our company, and we are extraordinarily proud of the strong team we have created. And I know they are our best sales force. As we grow larger, referals also come to us via our middle management colleagues. So make sure all levels of the company know how to explain what you do, who you serve and the results you create.

Business development is key to growing our AMCI member companies and our industry as a whole. Wishing you good luck in your referral, proposal and pitch efforts; and if you come up against my team, may the best management solution win!